Quote of the Week:
"Large infrastructure projects are not only about responding to the current needs of society, but also about (quite literally) shaping society for the future. Infrastructure lasts for decades, so this is always true, whether or not people are aware of it when projects are approved."
— Nickolas Jovanovic, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, in an email to the Arkansas Times. Jovanovic is one of scores of city residents drawn into the urgent discussion over the proposed expansion of Interstate 30. The state Highway Department's "30 Crossing" project would build four additional lanes of interstate traffic through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock for the sake of speeding commuter times to outlying suburbs — but urban residents are beginning to push back.
LRSD suit dismissed
Opponents of the state takeover of the Little Rock School District were disappointed last week when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the state Education Department was immune from a lawsuit on the issue. The opinion from the high court was unanimous, and reversed a contrary ruling from Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.
Usually, state agencies enjoy "sovereign immunity" that protects them from being sued, but legal exceptions are granted when it can be shown that an agency acted illegally. The plaintiffs in the case, which included former members of the elected LRSD school board dissolved in January, argued that the state's takeover was so arbitrary and unnecessary that the lawsuit should be allowed to proceed. The Supreme Court, though, said that was a matter of opinion rather than fact.
Those seeking to reverse the takeover now place their hopes in a separate federal lawsuit spearheaded by state Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock).
Farewell to the first black Razorback
When Darrell Brown entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as a freshman in 1965, he was one of 12 African Americans on the UA campus — and the only one crazy enough to try to play Razorback football at a time when the entire Southwest and Southeastern conferences were exclusively white. A walk-on player, Brown was ostracized by his own coaches, who directed his teammates to run brutal plays against him in practice after practice. His fellow players, chanting slurs, used him as a tackling dummy in kickoff drills. Brown made it through the year, but an injury ground his quixotic desegregation efforts to a halt as a sophomore; the Hogs' varsity team stayed all-white until Jon Richardson broke that barrier five years later.
Brown went on to graduate from the UA's law school and practiced as a trial attorney in Little Rock for decades. He died on Saturday at 67.
Nation's report card slides — sort of
Unlike most other standardized tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, gives the same test to students in every state (it's for fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading). So, when national scores released last week showed a drop for eighth-graders in each category — the first such decline since the exam began — people freaked out. Scores in Arkansas dropped as well, more steeply than the national numbers.
That being said, it's partly a matter of perspective: Since 2003, NAEP scores overall have risen dramatically, both in Arkansas and the U.S. as a whole. The main takeaway here is to beware of simple measurements in school data.
Hold that pipeline
TransCanada, the Canada-based oil producer seeking to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast across the Great Plains, has asked for a delay on a final decision from the federal government on the controversial project.
The Obama administration has kicked the can on Keystone for years, and Arkansas Republicans like U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton are particularly fond of complaining about the president's reluctance to approve Keystone. That's in part because an Arkansas pipe manufacturer stands to benefit from its construction — and also in part because Arkansas isn't one of the states the massive oil conduit is planned to traverse.
It's assumed that any Republican president would greenlight Keystone in a heartbeat, while the leading Democratic candidates both have spoken against it. By asking for a delay in the decision, TransCanada has evidently decided Obama is a lost cause, too. A GOP victory in 2016 is the Keystone project's last hope for survival.